The puzzle to solve this weekend was to find a run that was closer to home, higher than the Santa Monica Mountains, and had a “decent amount” of elevation gain. The solution put me right back at Red Box, doing two of the most popular peaks in the Front Range — Strawberry Peak (6164′) and San Gabriel Peak (6161′).
The main difference is that the 2018 run/hike was on a cool day in March, rather than a hot day in August. In 2018, I did San Gabriel Peak first, then Strawberry. The order didn’t matter. The temperature on both peaks that day was mostly in the 40s.
Today, it was essential to do Strawberry first, and get started early. The use trail between Lawlor Saddle and Strawberry’s summit faces south and east, and has very little shade. It’s steep and strenuous an no fun at all in the hot sun.
I left the Red Box parking lot at about 6:00 a.m. On the way up, the temperature ranged from the mid-50s to the mid-70s. On the way down, in some places it was already in the 90s. While it was hot in the sun on the upper part of the mountain on the descent, the traverse around Mt. Lawlor on the Strawberry Trail was still mostly in the shade and a relatively cool 75 to 80 degrees.
San Gabriel Peak isn’t the solar oven that Strawberry is. Much of the Bill Riley/Mt. Disappointment Trail faces north and a scrub oak forest provides some shade. Continuing up San Gabriel Peak after doing Strawberry, the temps were generally in the low to mid-80s.
Usually, I prefer to start the Strawberry Peak Summit Loop at the Colby Canyon Trailhead on Angeles Crest Highway. But it had been a while since I’d done the loop from Clear Creek, and I was feeling a little nostalgic. One of the aid stations for the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment race is at Clear Creek, and the course climbs Josephine Fire Road.
I was also curious how my time to Josephine Saddle using the fire road would compare to the direct route up the Colby Canyon Trail. As it turned out, at a moderate pace it was about the same either way.
The use trail up from Josephine Saddle was in decent condition. It looked like it may have recently had a snip here and there. Part way up the path, an outcrop on the ridgeline provides a good warmup for the climbing higher up. The circuitous path eventually ends at the base of the steep, jumbled northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak. I was surprised to find two small patches of snow here.
It’s difficult to describe the route on the ridge since there are many variations. It’s not fear-mongering to say that people get into trouble on this section. A common comment about this segment is, “Don’t climb anything sketchy or difficult.” But what is an easy scramble for one person may be nearly impossible for another. With 50+ years of rock climbing experience, I still remind myself not to climb up anything I’m not 100% sure I can climb down. If you don’t have “real” rock climbing experience, go with someone that knows the route.
Following a wet, snowy, cold Winter, I took extra care while climbing. Solid holds and blocks can sometimes be loosened over the Winter and fail unexpectedly. This morning, I didn’t notice any obvious changes on the route I climbed.
The setting changes dramatically on the east side of Strawberry Peak. You go from the cool shadows of a steep, rocky face with (typically) no one around to a sunny, sandy, busy summit and trail.
As I approached the summit, a couple of people were setting up to do a video for a vlog. Another person had just reached the top, and another hiker wasn’t far behind. With snow in the high country, Hwy 2 still closed at Red Box, and the Bobcat Fire Closure still in effect, the trail up Strawberry was a popular option. The question of the day from the people coming up was, “How many false summits are there?”
Overall, the Strawberry Peak Trail was in reasonable shape. The trail needed a little work in a few places, but as far as mountain trails go, its condition was about what you would expect. In several places, the trail was carpeted with the remnants of old yucca leaves. Very nice!
Just before reaching Red Box, I snapped a photo of the snow on Mt. Baldy. At Red Box, all but one parking space was taken, and that one was snagged by an arriving car.
As I started down the Gabrielino Trail from Red Box, LASD Air Rescue 5 began to orbit overhead. Apparently, there had been yet another vehicle accident on Angeles Crest Highway. It wasn’t long until I heard the whaling sound of sirens coming up the canyon.
Some trailwork had been done on the upper half of Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Switzer’s. Quite a few small trees and limbs had been removed from the trail, and the bushes trimmed. Most of the work (as of today) ended at mass of fallen trees halfway down the trail.
Upper Arroyo Seco was flowing. The sound of water plunging over the debris dams made the flow seem higher than it was. There were a couple of minor creek crossings.
Switzer’s was busy — as usual. To finish the loop, I walked up the stairs to the access road and hiked up to the start of Nature’s Canteen Trail. It was a bit overgrown, but I was back at Clear Creek in a few minutes.